Kate Forbes has apologised for hurt caused and promised to protect the rights of everybody in Scotland, “particularly minorities”, as she endeavours to reset her campaign for the leadership of the Scottish National party after her faith-informed views on equal marriage, transgender rights and sex outside marriage prompted a bruising backlash.
Forbes, a member of the socially conservative, evangelical Free Church of Scotland, said on Twitter she felt “greatly burdened and heartsore that some of my responses to direct questions in the media have caused hurt to friends, colleagues and fellow citizens,” and she had listened carefully to the response.
In a longer post on Facebook, the Scottish finance secretary, who has been on maternity leave since last July, attempted to steer the debate back to her thoughts on effective governance, economic growth and the involvement of party members in policy development.
The embattled MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch released her comments just before first minister’s questions at Holyrood – the first since Nicola Sturgeon announced her unexpected resignation last Wednesday. The session was dominated by opposition questions about the leadership frontrunner Humza Yousaf’s capacity to lead, after a damning report on his NHS Covid recovery plans.
Highlighting new figures showing waiting times at A&E departments of up to 60 hours, the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, said Yousaf should be “sacked, not promoted” and asked whether “the useless health secretary is really the best the SNP have to offer the country”.
In a report published on Thursday morning, the public spending watchdog Audit Scotland called for greater transparency about hospital backlogs and warned that the recovery plan did not contain “detailed actions” that would allow progress to be accurately measured.
Yousaf told BBC Scotland “We have never hidden the scale of the task and recovery will not take weeks or months but years.”
Labour’s health spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, said the report “lays bare the shambolic state of our NHS”.
Yousaf has continued to garner support from senior SNP figures, with Shirley Anne Somerville and Jenny Gilruth the latest ministers to declare their support.
Forbes’ early interviews left many of her own supporters as well as LGBT+ members aghast, prompting a number of her most prominent backers to distance themselves from her campaign, and senior party figures including John Swinney and Ian Blackford to question her suitability to lead the party.
In her posts, Forbes said she would “defend to the hilt the rights of everybody in Scotland, particularly minorities, to live and to love without fear or harassment in a pluralistic and tolerant society”.
She pointed out that her constituents had elected her “with one of the biggest majorities in Scotland” in 2021 and “in the full knowledge of my faith”. “That demonstrates that voters were comfortable knowing that I would serve them faithfully and without prejudice,” she said.
Some Forbes supporters have questioned whether the relentless probing of her religious views betrays misogyny or intolerance, noting that Yousaf – a practising Muslim – has not been similarly pursued on his faith. Yousaf held an open press launch for his campaign on Monday morning, while Forbes undertook a round of interviews with different media outlets over two days.
While Sturgeon stipulated that she would not comment on the merits of the leadership contenders during FMQs on Thursday, she told the BBC on Wednesday night: “Scotland is a socially progressive country and I believe that is the majority opinion. Whoever is first minister, the views that they have on all sorts of issues matter because people look to their first minister to see someone who will stand up for them and their rights, and the job of first minister on a daily basis involves responding to things based on your positions, your values, your outlooks.”
A third contender, Ash Regan, who resigned from the Scottish government in protest at the gender recognition reform bill, is expected to launch her campaign on Friday. She has stated her “firm support” for equal marriage.